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Is Russia Trying to Gain Control of the U.S. Power Grid?

Breaking News / Featured News / Russia / November 14, 2014

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued three alerts in October regarding cyber attacks on North American utility computer systems, declaring that malware in the form of a Trojan Horse has been lying dormant in the interfaces within utilities’ systems that control essential operations, possibly since 2011. Cyber security experts, noting that the malware going by the name of “BlackEnergy” is targeted toward systems with little in the way of intelligence value, are classifying the incursion as a potentially offensive measure designed to disrupt the delivery of electricity from the grid as well as the operations of water treatment plants in the U.S. and Canada.

While only a few details of the attacks have been disclosed to the public, this much is known so far:

  • The breaches have been linked to Russian hackers with government affiliations who conducted similar attacks on NATO in September – An analysis of intrusions directed toward NATO, as well as Ukraine, during meetings in Wales identified the source of the attacks as the same one that had breached the computer systems of North American utilities.
  • The malware appears to have been inserted into the utilities’ systems for later use – In the latest warning from the DHS, there were no indications that the malware had caused any damage, had re-programmed operations, or had exported any data. The dormant state of the Trojan horse programs, according to cyber espionage experts, indicates that the hackers were waiting to put the malware into action at some point in the future as either a full blown attack or as a warning of the potential for cyber-based actions on a larger scale.
  • The same group appears to be linked to the breach of an unclassified computer network at the White House in October as well – The attacks in all three cases have exploited the same weakness in Microsoft operating systems to gain entry by a cyber espionage group referred to as “Sandworm”.

The fact that the BlackEnergy malware was inserted into the networks of utilities but was not activated has led to speculation by cyber security experts that the breaches have been purposed more as a warning to potentially adversarial countries about Russian capabilities rather than an overt attack. For the utilities that were hacked, as part of an industry that is recognized as being one of the most vulnerable to cyber attacks, another warning is clear; in a cyber warfare event these networks will be targeted with dual objectives of mass disruption and destruction.

 


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